Category Archives: Life

Why We Should be Opting Out of Opt-In Porn

This week in “get yer filthy paws offof our interwebs”…

Here is a thing I literally do not understand: how are people who do not understand the internet allowed to control legislation about the internet? HOW IS THIS A THING THAT HAS HAPPENED?!  Internet users aren’t exactly a niche gathering anymore: gone are the days of IRC and hamsterdance, Facebook is the biggest country in the world, and the INFORMATION SUPER HIGHWAY isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Is it too much to ask to have someone in charge of this stuff who has at least a vague grounding in internet technology, terminology and memes?

Anyway.

The old issue of whether we should block porn on the internet is rearing its ugly, engorged head again this month.

A group of 60 MPs has published a report saying that internet users in the UK should have to opt-in in order to access pornography online.  The campaign’s being spearheaded by Conservative MP Claire Perry – witness my lack of surprise – who has been going on about this for yonks now. Since 2010, in fact, if you’re the sort of dull, over-zealous person like me who followed the original parliamentary debate. It’s always nice to have a chance to dig these things out again and view them through the rosy tint of nostalgia.

The report found that “freedom from prying eyes, human imagination and zero barriers to entry have led to an explosion of pornographic creativity with every possible sexual act represented online including many that are deeply degrading, disturbing and violent”, and that the current system of parental filters is failing because “only a minority of parents use these filters and this number is falling.”

Let’s leave aside for now the frankly miserable implication that freedom, human imagination, zero barriers and creativity are a bad thing, and look at the reasons why porn blocking as a default is A VERY SILLY AND TERRIBLE IDEA.

We’ll start with the most bleeding obvious.

No one’s going to want to opt in!

Perhaps you, as an adult, have decided that you do want to receive adult content. That’s cool, it’s a personal choice! All you need to do first is phone up your ISP, spend half an hour in a telephone queue, and then have an awkward conversation with a member of their staff wherein you essentially beg them for access to porn. Perhaps you share your internet connection with some other adults; a spouse, flatmates? Ok, well the ISP will need to talk to the account holder, and if that isn’t you, you’re going to have to get someone else to phone up and beg for porn on your behalf. After that, your names going to be on the ISPs porn register. The Big List of People Who Are Considered Sexually Dubious, 2012.

…Yay?

If parents are so concerned about their precious little darlings, why aren’t they already using the filters offered by ISPs?!

I’m not a parent, so I can’t answer this. It sometimes seems like the moment you spew out a baby or two, you lose all rational decision-making ability. The technology is already available, should people want to use it.

Opening the door to further censorship

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I think censorship is a bad thing, generally speaking, no matter how “moral” your motives may be. (We’ll leave aside for now the thorny problem of a small bunch of conservative-led MPs deciding what constitutes morality and what we should and shouldn’t be allowed to access freely). It’s all very well Western politicians outwardly condemning China (etc) for their internet censorship, but at the same time we’re seeing massive erosion of our online freedoms; from this week’s blocking of the Pirate Bay, to the numerous arrests because of activities on social media sites.

#bigbrotheriswatching

The most difficult – what constitutes pornography?

Is it art, or is it porn? What is porn, anyway?

Is this porn

Germaine Greer with her catflap out

Is this porn

The dirty pillows of Madonna

Is this porn

All the better to see you with my dear

Is this porn

Sexy.

Personally, I’m going to answer “no” to all of the above; your mileage may vary, YKINMK, etc.

Any filtering system would have to be semantically filtered according to keywords and image searches. Semantic filtering just isn’t doesn’t work that well yet; in the end, whether something is deemed “pornography” or not has to be a human decision – not to mention that the definition will differ wildly from one person to the next, depending on their levels of prudity.

Charlie (@sonniesedge) wrote a brilliant piece just over a year ago on why “pornblocking” ruling would have had devastating effect on her, growing up as a trans person. You can read it here. It’s one of a thousand “legitimate” reasons that a teenager or young person would have for accessing explicit content online; and that’s only if we assume that “exploring and coming to understand their sexuality” isn’t a legitimate reason, which, personally, I…kind of think it is?!

I’ll explain how a ruling like this would have affected me personally, growing up as a teenager. It won’t be as chilling or as vital a read as Charlie’s piece; a bit of censorship certainly wouldn’t have been fatal to me, but I would have turned out a very different person, and definitely not one as happy or comfortable with my own sexuality as I am.

One word: fanfiction.

I’ll let that sink in for a moment, whilst you judge me and leap to all the usual conclusions.  At least half of them will be reasonably correct.

Let me first clear up some myths: fanfiction isn’t about porn. Or, at least, it isn’t all about porn. And I have a lot more to say on this particular subject, which I’ll probably cover in a follow up post. For the purpose of this post, though, we will concentrate on the more sexually explicit side of things (Or “erotica”, if you prefer. I personally don’t, it reminds me too much of this sort of thing) since it’s the bit that’s relevant.

I think I started reading fanfiction when I was about 13 or 14, and nowhere near sexually active. My first ever ship was Rupert Giles/Jenny Calendar. It was a while until I discovered slash (fandom history! The term “ship” was first coined in X Files fandom; the term “slash” was first coined in Star Trek fandom. Anyway, I digress). Fanfiction was (and still is!) a safe space to explore my own sexuality, and discover the kaleidoscope of sexualities, genders and identities that are out there. It was many years before I’d hear the name Judith Butler, or even hear mention of ‘queer theory’, but when I did, it felt like coming home.

It also taught me some pretty good tips – the sort that the other, more popular girls in my year were picking up from More! magazine etc. I chose to avoid those types of magazines in favour of fictional pornography, and I’m glad; the negative body-image and degradation of women that these “officially sanctioned” items teach to young teenagers is far more destructive than the occasional glimpse of cock.

‘Guess Who’s Gone Under the Knife’: my favourite Hasbro boardgame

The thing that people all-too-often forget, whilst they’re trying to protect their children from sex, is that children need to learn to understand sex. They have willy-wagglers and front-bottoms just like the rest of us, and the minute they hit puberty they’re going to want to start finding out what they can do with them. That shouldn’t be a verboten or disgusting or evil subject. Specifically banning things only makes them seem more tempting.

I’m not saying there isn’t stuff out there that isn’t dark and disturbing, stuff that I don’t want to see myself, let alone expose my (potential) kids to. But there’s stuff on the streets that is dark and disturbing, too. We should exercise the same precautions with the internet as we do out on the high street; keep a close eye on them, teach them them to be wary of strangers,  and hold their hands if they need it.

Erotic Choose-Your-Own-Adventure

This weekend, I found a book at the second-hand bookstore they always have underneath the bridge on the South Bank, right outside the BFI.  It’s a treasure-trove of old pictures and weird stuff, and this book in particular is (I think) the best £2 I’ve ever spent.  It is (wait for it…) an EROTIC CHOOSE-YOUR-OWN-ADVENTURE STORY.

Obviously I bought it straight away because “erotic” and “choose-your-own-adventure” are two phrases which should DEFINITELY be used in tandem AS OFTEN as possible, if not ALWAYS.

Sadly it turns out that the CYOA element to the book doesn’t really work; all the choices are completely lacking in context (“Choose Door 2 or Door 5”) and the narrative structure is hopeless. Also there’s only actually one ending you can get. WTF, book?!  I wanted to choose my OWN adventure!  You have misrepresented yourself to me.

The book also misrepresents itself in that it is the least erotic thing I have ever read.  And I have read* Peter Mandelson/George Osborne slash fanfiction, so I know what I am talking about.

I looked on the copyright website and it reckons that if I’m quoting something for purposes of criticism then it falls under Fair Use policy, so here we go… a close reading of Chapter 1.

It was a vast sandy beach, whipped by a warm ocean wind full of iodine.

OK, so this is already a terrible beginning.  What I want from an opening line in an erotic fiction, to set the scene and make me feel all sexy or whatever, is definitely NOT a mention of IODINE.

I could hear the waves but the sea remained out of sight, closed off by a barrier of dunes. I took off my shoes and started walking towards it.

The sand beneath the soles of my feet was cool and prickly in parts because of the vegetation. But it was a delicious sensation to feel it wed itself to my muscles so perfectly, and accompany them with each of my movements, from my toes to my heels.

When I reached the crest

Already?!

I saw the immense ocean stretch out in front of me, its grey waves wrinkled with white beneath a sky overburdened with heavy clouds.  The sound of the sea was deafening.  I walked straight towards it, facing into the wind.

I wandered along the edge of the waves for a while, following their ebb and flow on the beach, playing with them by getting my feet wet and even raising my dress and getting splashed with foam right up to my thighs.

Oof. Things are getting sexy now. I think this is supposed to represent some sort of sensual landscape of woman?  And also the foam is probably jizz.

From their wet fringe I collected small pebbles, put them in my mouth and sucked them until they lost their salty taste.

This is subtle. I wonder these salty pebbles could represent?  Could it be… COJONES?

NB I had always thought this was spelt “cahonies” as I have never written it before re: why would you. But apparently it is Spanish or something.

I kept a few, as well as some shells whose shape, gloss and colour I found pleasing.

The ebbing tide uncovered a broad band of wet sand.  I knelt down facing the sea, opened my hand and deposited the small hoard I had gathered.  Then I started building a castle.

I worked on it for a long time.  I fashioned outer walls, towers, a keep, the ramparts, turrets and battlements.  I dug a deep moat around it and let it fill up with the sea water that had soaked into the sand.

THE CASTLE… OF MYSELF.

Then with my nails and fingertips I started making slits and other openings in the wall.

I guess we will just have to get used the subtlety of prose employed here.

When I had hollowed out the main gate I was amazed to see the sand continue to crumble away behind the little excavation I had just made, as if a large sand fly were carrying on with my work.  And I was absolutely astonished to see a tiny little man emerge from this same door, naked as a worm.

Right.  This is where things start getting properly weird and the first time (but by no means the last) that this book caused me to double-take.  She BUILDS A CASTLE…and inside it there is a TINY LITTLE MAN…NAKED AS A WORM.

Naked as a worm.

At this point of reading my brain started going “Oh god oh god oh god, is she going to have sex with the tiny little man, that would be completely fucked up WHAT THE HELL”.  Perhaps your brain is currently gabbling the same question at you.  Spoilers: the answer to this question is YES.

If the idea of Big-on-Small fucking is upsetting to you then I suggest you read no further.

Big Cook Little Cook

Big Cook Little Cook: Size Doesn't Matter

I must have looked like some sort of female genie to him, a supernatural giant who had emerged from some bottle washed up by the sea.  I lay down flat to be nearer his level and to observe him better. When he saw my – for him – gigantic eyes fixed on him, he crossed his hands over his miniature sex.  Then, despite the difference in size, he started to strut around and look me over in a macho little way, as if he expected me to be impressed and find him attractive.

In my head the tiny little man is basically a naked Sir Cadogen.  Is this supposed to be getting us in the mood?  I just have no idea.  ALSO WHY IS THERE A TINY LITTLE MAN ANYWAY.

I laid my hand out flat in front of him, above the moat, inviting him to climb on board.  Which he did, having gallantly bowed to kiss my finger.

His little feet pleasantly tickled my palm.  He grabbed hold of my thumb and, very gently so as not to unbalance him, I sat up in the sand.  Then I raised my hand with its precious contents to the level of my face.  He was as cute as anything.  Well-built and virile, with well-defined little muscles, his dinky little sex and his pretty, tough-guy face, fine and distinctive, ringed with greased-back hair as dark as his eyes, with their enticing, velvety, albeit slightly idiotic look.

This is definitely what I want in a lover.  Enticing, velvety, albeit slightly idiotic eyes.  HOT.

“So, doll,” he said, expanding his chest to the full, “Wotcher think?  Ever seen a body as fine…as manly as this?”

No one says “wotcher”.  NO ONE. And this is as it should be.

That’s when I noticed that his mini-cocklet was standing up proudly under my nose.  I prevented myself from bursting out laughing, so as not to annoy him and not to drop him.  I modestly lowered my eyelids and looked shocked.

My mama used to say, life is like a box of cocklets.  You never know which one you’re gonna get.

“Don’t be shy,” he said in what he thought was a reassuring tone. “Come on, take your dress off…Don’t be afraid…”

I put him down on the sand, on the other side of the moat, in case he got it into his head to run away.  For I had no intention of letting such an amusing marvel escape.

SEXY SEXY ENTRAPMENT.  I mean, who isn’t turned on by coercion?!

 Without taking my eyes off him, I got undressed in the manner of a clumsy virgin, but with the skill of a stripper,

WHAT. I can’t even imagine this.  How does one get undressed in the manner of a clumsy virgin, BUT with the skill of a stripper?  I mean, obviously you could be a virgin and a stripper at the same time, that is a thing that could happen.  But “clumsy” and “skilled” are sort of diametrically opposed.

Other things that are diametrically opposed: this book, and arousal.

in order to make him foam at the mouth even more at my – for him – colossal charms.  Then I lay on my back, closed my hand around him (in his entirety he was no bigger than the penis of an ordinary man) and placed him on my stomach.

He is the size of a penis.  I wonder where THIS is going.

On all fours he started crawling round this womanly landscape, crazy with lustful desires.  At first he climbed up to my left breast and placed himself against it, arms and legs wide trying to embrace it.  Opening his mouth wide he managed to get my boob into his mouth and he started sucking it.

NOT. PHYSICALLY. POSSIBLE.  When my boyfriend was reading this chapter (we like to get ourselves in the mood), he opened his mouth as wide as possible to demonstrate that he would not be able to fit the breast of an enormous lady into it.  I am not sure how this actually demonstrated this, but, it was definitely a thing that happened.

Boy reacts to book

At the same time I saw his little bottom undulating against my flesh and I felt his little hard rod rubbing against my breast.  Finally a large drop of sticky, warm liquid shot out against my skin.

I almost forgot the size of my partner.  Wasn’t the fact that he was a man the most important thing?

No, enormous lady protagonist apparently supposed to represent Everywoman; no it isn’t.  The most important thing here is that you are getting it on with a tiny tiny man on a beach.  Everywoman is not so sure about your life-choices, frankly.

I was now quite wet between my legs.  Thankfully he then had the good idea of venturing down there, to what was probably a real Ali Baba’s cave for him, and doing the honours.

He hung onto my hair as he descended between my spread-eagled thighs.  Then he started wiggling between my lips and right into my sheath.  He touched me and titillated me absolutely everywhere,

Again. NOT. PHYSICALLY. POSSIBLE.  Unless they were there all day, I suppose.

and his tiny limbs lent such precision to his caresses that he kept me in a state of acute pleasure.

Ok, are you ready? This is the worst bit. Hold onto your twats, people:

When he had brought me to the edge of ecstasy, he penetrated me with his whole body.  Then I came, arching back in the sand and shouting out against the noise of the sea.

NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO OH GOD NO MY EYES MY BRAIN THIS IS THE WORST THING I HAVE EVER READ.

Also if he did this he would almost definitely die.  And then he would get stuck up there like an old tampon, and she would probably eventually die too of TSS.  In fact I think I will make this my replacement head-canon.  It makes as much sense as anything else.

The little man climbed back up my belly where he lay down, dripping wet.  We slept together, under the wind.

Awwww. I love a happy ending.

I hope you enjoyed this critical analysis.  I have an English degree.

*written

#BBCQT Watch & Tweetalong (or, how to crowdsource a whole event in a fortnight)

NEW AND EXCITING NEWS!!! (is new news a tortology? yes. probably.)

I am putting on a thing!

I didn’t used to watch Question Time, or indeed be particularly politically engaged at all. This all changed completely (as did many things) when Twitter came into my life.

HEYYY TWITTER HEYYYY!

Now I LOVE it and I literally read the news every day. I just cannot get enough of the news.

Twitter has a clever knack of making live events, and shared events, much more fun; even if they’re things that, perhaps, on your own, you would find mind-numbingly dull. I’m not talking about Question Time here; obviously I’m talking about X Factor. I in fact watched all of last year’s series of X Factor, simply because the shared jokes and japes and piss-taking on Twitter made it such a joyous experience. And it’s the same with Question Time (probably the first time anyone’s compared Question Time to the X Factor in any way ever???); even the dry bits and the awful bits are a lot more fun with a feed full of people doing SATIRE and making JOKES and getting ANGRY AT THE GOVERNMENT. Normally, all on their own, in front of their computers slash tellies, yelling at the screen, drowning their political anxieties with whatever liquor comes to hand.

So! I thought. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all this together, sometime? The drinking and shouting and laughing? “When I move to London,” I thought, “I might look into that.”

Then! I moved to London.

I met Mediocre Dave (@mediocredave [otherwise known, occasionally, as Martin]) in a pub after we had both been to a myth-busting talk that Zoe (@stavvers) & some other people were doing about anarchism. It was a nice talk and I liked it!! I was concerned, however, that the fact that it was on a Thursday might make me miss Question Time. I DO NOT LIKE MISSING QUESTION TIME! IT IS MY FAVOURITE TIME OF THE TWITTER-WEEK. I mentioned this to Dave…Martin….Dave….and we got onto discussing the idea of holding a watchalong/tweetalong in a pub somewhere, with everyone in the room’s tweets projected onto one wall and the programme itself onto another. AMAZING, we thought. “Is this just a slightly tipsy pub-talk,” we said, “Or shall we actually do it?”

LET’S ACTUALLY DO IT.

Question Time is on fairly late, though (10:35! Practically bedtime!) and I thought that this would be an odd time of night for something to start. “We could have political speakers, and comedians, beforehand!” I said, “To get us in the mood! We could play the #BBCQT Drinking Game!” My friend Chris Coltrane (@chris_coltrane) runs a lovely night called Lolitics, which I’d been quite inspired by, though I didn’t want to centre around stand-up comedy too much – I wanted more of a “Twitter on a Thursday but IRL” feel.

I went onto Twitter and crowd-sourced the rules of the #BBCQT Drinking Game, since everyone has a different version each week. HILARITY ENSUED. This was the result. I’ve since pruned it just a *tad* and you can read the finalised version here: BBC Question Time Drinking Game.

Dave & I contacted some politicos that we thought might like to do slots and they thought it sounded nice! This was encouraging. Becky Luff (@speckl) allowed us access to her massive brain-library of comedians and helped us get in touch with a few likely people. I found a lovely venue in Islington, The Compass, who were very keen to get involved, and said they’d give us the room for free if we brought in a successful, regular night. The wonderfully obliging Steve Maclean (@steven_maclean) whipped up a poster. John Rogers (@lampyjohn) and Mike Hillier (@mikehillier) offered their support on the tech/audio side of things. DIMBLEBOT (@dimblebot) thoroughly endorsed the project.

Anyway, without further ado, I present – the first #BBCQT Watchalong/Tweetalong.

#BBCQT Watchalong Tweetalong
EHHHH MYYYY GEEEEEEHHHHHHD.

Twitter, I love you, and you are all fucking stunners.

See you there x

Life, London; this moment in June.

I thought I’d better start updating again, or something, in that vague way that crosses your mind whenever you Make A Major Life Change.  “I’m a blogger!” I still think, occasionally, swiftly followed by, “No, Natalie, you haven’t posted for over a year; just because your HILARIOUS blog on how certain politicians look like Thomas the Tank Engine characters went viral that one time, that does not mean you are a BLOGGER. If anything, you are a twitter-addicted MICRO-BLOGGER.  You are the ADHD scum of the blogosphere.”

So! A proper update. The LP version of all those twitter EPs that keep flying off the shelves.

I live in LONDON now.  I work in NEW MEDIA in SHOREDITCH. This is hilarious to me. Whenever I am feeling a bit stressed, or like I am a child pretending to be a grown-up (i.e. most of the time), I remember this and then everything is amusing again.  I am a SELF-FACILITATING MEDIA NODE.  So far it is my third day here and no one has yet offered me a line of coke OR a game of ‘Cock Muff Bumhole’.  I have also failed to work the adjectives ‘bum’ or ‘well fucking jackson’ into my everyday rhetoric.  I am almost saddened by these facts.

I work for a company called Ixxus, who design and implement content management systems and are the UK specialists in Alfresco open source software.  Which basically just means we make websites & that.  My bossman is tall and stern-looking, like an eagle, and also he is bald, like a bald eagle.  He has a very tiny curly-haired poodle that looks more like a TY beanie-baby blacksheep than an actual dog, and he plays catch with it up and down the office.  A thing that I like about my new job is, there is free fruit and coffee and tea and biscuits here every day.  Mental!  A thing I do not like about my new job is, sometimes people make me do work.  As usual, my office is very male-dominated (there are only three girls; Marketing, Marketing and Secretarial; hurrah for gender equality!), and full of techies; that said, I have already had to explain what memes are (along with examples) and describe the point of leet-speak (i.e. none).

Speaking of memes!  I went to Hay Festival again the other week, and attended a lot of ace internetty talks with exciting and adorable people like Cory Doctorow of BoingBoing and Ben Hammersley of Wired Magazine.  I mentioned the Adam Curtis documentary All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace to Ben during his talk, and got told by the chair to shut up since it was too niche for the audience (pfff); afterwards, Sue Blackmore (the world’s! leading! authority! on memes! also she is amazing! and does talks at TED! and has great hair!) literally LEAPT over the room to talk about it with me afterwards.  Tl;dr I was pleased by this and am now showing off about it?  I might try and be her when I grow up, if being Caitlin Moran doesn’t pan out.

Speaking of Hay! I helped my good friend and book-bummer extraordinaire Lauren Smith out on the Voices for the Library stall a lot during the festival.  They’re a really great organisation who are campaigning against library closures around the UK in the wake of coalition cuts, and are deffo worth a look at if you’re into, y’know… books, or literacy, or learning, or children, or any of those important things that we’re supposed to value in an enlightened society.  You can follow them on twitter @UKPling.

Here are some things that I have found out about living in London:

  1. It does not take very long until you get annoyed by very minor delays in public transport. Back in Shropshire I had to wait for two hours to get a bus, and drive for an hour to get to a city; now I get irritated if the tube is more than three minutes late.   Last week I also got annoyed because I literally had to go right to the end of my street to find a shop that sells HP sauce, as the shops at my end didn’t stock it.
  2. Salgam is disgusting.  I am kind of against savoury drinks in principle, but this one is the worst of the lot.  It is made out of radishes.  Radishes are bad enough in solid form.
  3. Nearly everyone in London is gay.  Probably?
  4. Going on the tube with a hangover gives me panic attacks.
  5. All of the pubs are too small to actually fit everyone in, which is fine in the summer, but I am not sure how this will work in the winter.
  6. If you are a girl and have dyed red hair and dress a little oddly and perhaps maybe just happen to be covered in glitter from a gay disco, then blokes will yell “VIVIENNE WESTWOOD!” at you in the streets as though they think this is an insult or something.

Here are some exciting things that I have done so far:

  1. Been swimming in the outdoor bathing pools on Hampstead Heath.  They are very very cold and have enormous fish in them.  I quite like it because you can swim after passing ducks and coots.  Coot.
  2. Blagged my way into a party on the Commons Terrace at Parliament and got very drunk on taxpayer-funded wine and a bottle of whisky signed by Nick Clegg.
  3. Been mugged.
  4. Watched two seasons of The Vampire Diaries.
  5. Waded through the fountains in Trafalgar Square and got told off by the police during London Pride.
  6. Hung out with boy-blogger Rhys Morgan who is a bit of a Skeptic hero of mine for starting campaigning against homeopathy and other such quackery at a young age.
  7. Arranged to start a ‘zine with my friend Bill and then failed entirely to follow up on it.
  8. Referred to myself as being “in my mid-twenties” for the first time ever.
  9. Invented a new euphemism for ones lady-parts. CAT-FLAP.  It is totally classy and will definitely get you laid.
That is all.

Sprawling Rambles & Rambling Sprawls

So I’m only updating because Tim Minchin said he liked my blog, yeah? He has rad hair.

(Actually I’m updating because I promised Mobile Fun that I’d review a USB phone charger, and because it’s… well, it’s been a while)

Exciting updates! What the hell have I been up to?!

Well. Mostly I have been putting photographs of politicians next to trains from Thomas the Tank Engine and then laughing a lot?

WHAT IS THIS.

I CAN'T BREATHE.

So yeah, I’ve been doing a lot of that.  Too much, one might say.  But also! I have done normal things that proper people do, too. Proper people who don’t get looked at as though they are mental.

Hay Festival

My first time (shocking really, as I’m next to the Welsh border and it’s only an hour away). I’ve been to Hay-on-Wye before obviously, there were books, I had some fudge.

I ADORED it. The same sort of intellectually-trascendent revelation that I had when I first went to Latitude. Wonderful, to hear snippets of exciting conversation everywhere you went, to know you could happily interject without inevitably hating the strangers you ended up talking to.  I did the Philosophy festival on the Saturday and the Literature festival on the Sunday (I span academia, yo).  I’m not going to rave too much, but it was stunning.

Also, I got a virtually self-spoofing Guardian tote bag that is immune to parody in its ridiculousness. It is totez awesome:

Paper? Tick! Sunshine? Tick! Pimms? Tick!

Highlights inc!

  • “Copyright, Copyleft & Artistic Ownership in the Digital Age”; brill stuff on a thorny issue. Feargal Sharkey was a really engaging & compelling speaker, even though I disagreed with much of what he said.  Still, at least everyone seems to be agreed that reform is needed.
  • Johann Hari being adorbs.
  • More Nick Clegg stalking (I know, I’m a girl possessed). He was lovely & witty & self-deprecating as ever (“I co-authored a book on this – well, it wasn’t really a book. More of a pamphlet. I just said it was a book because I thought this is a literary festival and it would sound grand. It was a leaflet, really.”)
  • Stephen Fry being booked to speak for an hour and overrunning for an hour in typically verbose Stephen-fashion (“Incidentally, WHEN is the Alejandro video coming out?! It is just driving me MAD!”)
  • All the speakers being given sunflowers. Glorious!

Also, Bonnie Greer was literally everywhere we went. Being fierce.

Minor quibble: I was surprised how un-foodie it was; only one vegetarian option on site, and barely any food on site at all. I was expecting, you know, grilled halloumi and houmous and venison burgers.

I also spent far too much of the weekend sitting in my car trying to charge my phone just so that I could tweet. Nightmare. #firstworldproblems

Here’s some satire, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Oh, my achey-breaky Lib Dem heart.

Latitude

I also went to Latitude! I wasn’t supposed to, it was sold out and I was very sad, but then I managed to come by a spare VIP ticket about 3 days before for less then face value.  Huzzah.

An excellent time, but unfortunately I did keep falling asleep and missing things.  Most noteably & heart-wrenchingly, Karaoke Circus & Crystal Castles, though they clashed anyway.

Highlights inc!

  • Quite a lot of Robin Ince happened. Robin Ince is everywhere. He is the king of middle-class, left-wing festivals. And there were cushions on the floor of the Literary Arena! Score.
  • The Actor Kevin Eldon. Obviously.
  • Q&A session with Chris Morris.
  • Forest! Sheep! Lake! Cocktails! All the usual, really.
  • I Blame Coco played! She is the fittest thing I have ever seen?

FAO Coco, how are you real?

My favourite bit was when Colin & Mary & I were having a discussion about something wanky like “the transient nature of the campsite” and “festivals as liminal zones” (Colin & I basically talk in English Lit. essay titles once we get going, it is really irritating for anyone near us); Colin asked whether either of us ever imagined that each tent was a word and strung them together across the campsite to make sentences.  No, I said, shaking my head, “But are they present tents or past tents?”

I am literally the funniest person in the world.

Anyway!

A REVIEW

Perks of the job. Work very kindly let me take along this emergency charger for my phone, so that I didn’t have to spend half the festival sitting in the car like I did at Hay.  I’m no tech-blogger really, so you don’t get an unboxing video I’m afraid.  Here’s a picture of it though:

I actually really dig it and have been using it loads.  It works well as a charger for my G1 but comes with loads of other tips so you could easily use it as an iPhone 4 charger or an iPad charger etc – not sure how long it’d take to charge an iPad though, I’ll have to borrow m’ boss’ one for a go.

The unit itself is quite sleek and feels/looks well-made, with a nice matt finish.  It seems to hold just enough power for me to charge my phone completely about 1.5 times, perhaps 2 at the most, so I did still end up sitting in my car again occasionally, but that’s more the G1′s fault for absolutely gobbling up battery.

I like it! I shall bequeath it THREE AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE STARS.

If that sounds low, it’s just because I’m stingy. I would only give myself three and a half out of five stars as a person, too.  And I’m really into me.

Birmingham SiTP

I went to it, my second. Everyone very friendly and welcoming, and remembered who I was though I’d missed a couple of sessions :)

Anyway, lovely lovely Prof Chris French (wot I wrote a piece on sleep paralysis for last year) gave us a talk, on the latter, and also on anomalous psychology and pareidolia and all that malarky that always makes me wish I’d carried on with Psych after A Level.  I got a little drunk on toffee cider.

Escorted through the Peer’s Entrance

Not a euphemism. Or at least, it wasn’t until all my rt. Hon. friends the Loliticians got their grubby little hands on it.

I had a tour round Parliament! It was amazing!

Lord Faulkner kindly took me round and he properly knew his stuff.  Here are some interesting facts that he told me about:

Behind the Speakers chair is a green bag which is the petitions bag, where all the petitions sent in end up. Lord F. said that in the olden days when people would ask “Did you get my petition?”, the Speaker would say “It’s in the bag”, and that’s the origin of the phrase “It’s in the bag”.  I squealed quite loudly when he told me this.

In front of both of the benches there are two red lines, just over two sword lengths apart, which you aren’t allowed to step over when you’re talking to ensure that you don’t fight the opposition; this is the origins of the phrase “toeing the line”.

He also explained the tradition behind Black Rod, the guy who comes with the Queen for the State Opening of Parliament. This one time! Charles I ran in demanding to see 5 MPs who he was angry with and wanted to punish, but the MPs had already legged it. The Speaker refused to tell the King where they were and said that he was under the rules of the Commons, not the rules of the King, and then they ejected Charles I from the Commons.  Hero!  So now, royals are only allowed into the Commons by invite, and when they come they have to have the door slammed shut ceremonially in their faces and then Black Rod raps on the door with his rod to be let in.

It was a bit empty as it was the last day of term before all the politicians wander off to the beach with their buckets & spades.  I watched the Lords doing a vote, and I went in the Commons chamber and had a wander around and looked at the front benches and the dispatch boxes, and I went on the Terrace Bar, and I went in the Robing Room where the Queen gets dressed before State Opening of Parliament.  I’d always envisaged it as a large walk-in wardrobe but it is in fact an entire room with quite a lot of paintings in it.

Not many Lords.

Doctor Who at the Proms

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH.

Matt Smith! Karen Gillan! Arther Darville! Daleks! Weeping Angels!

They played Gallifrey: My Childhood, My Home along with a video of all of the Doctor’s regenerations, and we all applauded each Doctor as they passed.  Very poignant and lovely, so obviously I was sobbing my face off.

Albert Mo'Fo'ing Hall

I also went to see The Knife’s opera based around The Origin of Species, Tomorrow in a Year, but I won’t go into it here as it wasn’t all that.  A nice concept, moderately executed.  My advice is to just stay at home and listen to the album, which is great.  Cool dry ice, though.

SHERLOCK

The BBC modern-day adaptation of Sherlock Holmes, by Steven Moffat (Doctor Who) & Mark Gatiss (League of Gentleman) started airing a fortnight ago. Be still my heart.

I AM FANGIRL CENTRAL.

HUMPERDINK BANDERSNATCH. CUTHERBERT CAMEMBERT. BENDYDICK CUCUMBERPATCH. YOU HAVE A RIDICULOUS NAME. MARRY ME?

They’ve even had a sort of hamfisted go at the extended media/ ARG side of things, with character blogs (John, Sherlock, Molly) and puzzles to crack, which is sort of endearing.  And gives us lots of extra squee-worthy details like SHERLOCK AND JOHN HAD A JAMES BOND MARATHON TOGETHER, SHERLOCK AND JOHN RAN OUT OF MILK THIS ONE TIME AND SHERLOCK HAD TO ASK JOHN TO GET SOME, SHERLOCK AND JOHN ARE IN LOVE AND DEFINITELY GOING TO GET MARRIED, et cetera.

Unfortunately it’s only a three-parter. The first episode was stunning, absolutely utterly & inexorably perfect.  The second, I thought was a little weak (also not slashy enough?! hello?!).  But the second of a trilogy is always the worst, TRUFAX, so I have high-hopes for next week’s finale.  And for us getting a full series after that, please?

I would be this excited.

PS. Dear Mr Prime Minister, plz do not take our BBC.

Catch-up Blog: Cleggmania, Timey-Wimey Stuff & The Whedonverse

So, a catch up.

General Election 2010

It’s in two days. IT IS IN TWO DAYS. This has been the most exciting election of my young life, and whether that’s because it’s geniunely been exciting or just because it’s the first one where I’ve considered myself informed and involved to any degree, I couldn’t say.  The way I engage with politics has been completely altered (a sceptic would say “dictated”) by twitter, The Guardian CiF and (to a lesser extent) the enforced 3 hours of commuting time sat in the car listening to Radio 4.  *Cough*middle-class-liberal*coughcough*.  Anyway, it’s been really exciting.  Off the back of the first televised election there was a real sense of potential for change, with the rise of so-called “Cleggmania”, and also a (even more exciting) feeling that people were getting very fed up of spin and wouldn’t let the media (*cough* Rupert Murdoch*cough*) dictate what they were going to do.  I have to say, my excitement has worn off now; it’s been replaced by a sense of rising dread now that the election proper is looming and it’s still looking quite likely that we’ll be ushering in David Cameron as our new leader.  Oh well, it was fun while it lasted!

Now, I have no idea whether the Lib Dems could actually run the country, should they get into power, and I hope that they would be able to, but most importantly the increased significance of the third party shows a movement away from the two-party politics that we’ve been stuck with.  Any movement towards people voting for what they actually believe in rather than as a protest or a tactical vote is a good thing as far as I can see.

Presumably, whatever party gets into power next will be so unpopular because of all the cuts they’ll inevitably have to make that they’ll then be absolutely abhorred and drop out of favour for years afterwards.  So possibly the tories getting in right now wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

In terms of a hung parliament, I’m for it.  I think it would be interesting.  And chaotic.  (“And I am interested in chaos” – points for quote naming!) At best, it could be fairer; at worst, it would be an awful disaster that would hopefully lead to the political reform that we do desperately need.  The best thing about the high probability of a hung parliament is that it’s given us all the chance to make what is literally the most elegant joke ever: “Red and blue and yellow mixed together just makes Brown”.  OH MY GOD it is perfect.  It’s almost like it was all prearranged.

Cleggmania

At the weekend I met the Cleggmeister in a very lovely little pub in Malvern called The Nags Head.  I’m not sure what possessed me; I just heard that he was close-by, I was at a loose end waiting for Doctor Who to come on and there was a possibility of a pint of real ale.  NOT EVEN FAKE ALE.  So I drove over; it was a beautiful sunny day and the Malverns were looking stunning.  The pub was rammed, mostly with Lib Dem supporters, but also some Conservative hecklers.  It was all very exciting, standing around with my pint with hundreds of people and waiting.  And waiting.  And then… the enormous yellow Battle Bus pulling up.  A cheer!  And then, waiting.  The sense of apprehension was palpable.  Everyone was silent, staring at the door of the bus.  It opened! A cheer.  Nothing happened.  The door shut again.

It was like waiting for a band to come on at the sort of gig I went to when I was 17.  I was half expecting dry ice and for Nick Clegg to ascend out of a hole in the top of a bus with lasers surrounding him.  But no; he walked out of the door eventually, small and mousy and unassuming.  A small child started jumping up and down next to me yelling “Mummy! Mummy! Nick’s here!”.  People waved their “I AGREE WITH NICK” placards.  I regretted not wearing more yellow.  Or less yellow, perhaps.  I began to wonder whether it looked like I’d purposefully dyed my hair orange to show I was a supporter.  I glanced surreptitiously at the rest of the crowd to see if anyone was looking at my hair funny.  They weren’t.  The jumping child knocked a glass over and the entire crowd went “OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO”.  He did a speech (Nick, not the child).  I couldn’t hear it.  A man heckled him.  He handled him firmly but calmly.  He greeted people.  He shook my hand.  I swooned.  My little sister sent me a text: “Tell him I’m voting 4 him because he’s a babe”.  He went inside.  We all crammed inside after him.  He handled a pint masterfully.  He shook another girl’s hand; she swooned against a wall and whimpered, “Oh my God! He shook my hand! I’m never washing it again!”.  A lady forced him to kiss a baby’s face.  He cringed.

Doctor Who

We’re five episodes in, so that’s long enough to give my verdict.  Matt is fabulous, and Amy is gorgeous, though I haven’t quite got my head around her properly yet.  Tonally it’s very different from the wooby-angst of RTD’s era, which it does need to be; much more action and clever plotting than drama and despair and love.  On the other hand, whilst I love the general concept of Doctor Who, and the rebel, pacifist, almost anarchist character of the Doctor himself, it was exactly that angst of the RTD-era and of David’s doctor that hooked me, and the intense interpersonal relationships between him and the characters around him.  I feel that’s lacking now (though I know that it’s an omission many will be very happy about), and the closeness of the relationships he does have seems sidestepped a little.  His and Amy’s relationship, in particular, seems to have a faux-closeness about it, thrown together in the last 10 minutes of The Beast Below.  But I suspect this is pretty par for the course with the Moff (who I do adore in all other senses, for his complexity and his knowledge of childhood fears, the eery and the uncanny), who has created close relationships with the Doctor before with no pre-amble or build-up (Madame de Pompadour, River herself).  I don’t know if I trust him to write the type of blossoming, close relationship that RTD was so good at.  But we shall see!  I adore the humour in it, and the horror, and the fairytale element (even if they’re hammering it in a little hard).  I’m very excited about the timey-wimey-ness of it, the probable timeline-skewing and the almost-definite Future!Doc in the forest (and elsewhere), which is so beautifully reminiscent of Hermione with the timeturner in Prizoner of Azkaban <33
RTD always used the time travel business as a plot device, simply in order to get the Doctor to where he needed to be in order to occur, rather than something important in its own right, and it’s about time that was altered (What else is going to be altered?  We shall find out!)

In VERY EXCITING AND RELATED NEWS, I somehow managed to get my hands on three tickets to the Doctor Who Prom today. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH.  I thought it had sold out and then it hadn’t and then then there was this whole THING and now there are tickets.  I have been on a total spazhigh for half of the day.  I’m just hoping that by the time it happens I have more of a connection to Murray Gold’s score; I’ve been enjoying it, of course, but there’s nothing yet that makes me catch my breath like “The Doctor’s Theme” always does, or burst into tears immediately like “The Rueful Fate of Donna Noble” or “Gallifrey: Our Childhood, Our Home”.  Still!  ERM I WILL SEE MATT SMITH AND KAREN GILLAN ACTUALLY IN FRONT OF ME, ACTUALLY? *SQUEE*

Buffy Season 8/ General Joss Whedon fangirling (POSSIBLE SPOILERZ)

I AM READING BUFFY SEASON 8 AND IT IS AMAZING.  And I’m not a comics fan, but I’ve always wanted to be, and I think this just might be my in.  I can’t quite accept it as canon – Dawn is a giant?!  Buffy is a lesbian?!  Basically EVERYONE can fly?! – but it’s still an absolute funtimes ROMP.  Like fanfic on crack, but with illustrations.  AND THE DOCTOR AND ROSE HAVE A CAMEO <33 And so meta!  I mean, everyone seems to be sort of aware that they’re in a comic, and familiar with its forms and layout etc.  Somehow.  Is this normal for comics?  I kind of… suspect that it is, and perhaps that is why people bum them so much.  If anyone has any recommendations of where to go next with this, let me know.

Other related Joss points: EVERYONE SHOULD WATCH DR HORRIBLE’S SINGALONG BLOG.  It’s sort of dissatisfying and weak-scripted initially, but I found it was a total grower and now I adore it.  Especially the soundtrack.  And the fact that the commentary is another musical on top of it.  I love you Joss!  I am glad to be existing in a post-Buffy landscape!  I am looking forward to your episode of Glee and also the Avengers Movie!

Home

Some sad news at the weekend.  We’ve been bottle-feeding a couple of lambs that had been rejected by their mums at the farm up the road, Bounder and Greg, for a couple of weeks.  Greg has a limp, much like his misanthrope of a namesake.  While most of the lambs we have stay up in the field with their mums, the bottle-reared ones live down in the garden and wander in out of the kitchen occasionally, thinking that they’re people.  Bounder and Greg were always gambolling around the garden or staring at the goat kids through the orchard fence.  On Sunday morning I was woken by distressed bleating, which I grumpily presumed was the lambs thirstin’ for a drink.  It was only when I got up later that I found out that Bounder had died in the night and the bleating was Greg crying over him :( I’m not as hardened to “farm” life as the rest of my family, so it’s made me actually quite upset.  I mostly just feel very sorry for Greg, who’s alone now without Bounder to look after him, and is still bleat-crying two days later.  The ewes won’t have anything to do with him and nor will the goats so he just wanders around the yard looking lost.  Hopefully we’ll get another bottle-fed lamb soon to be his friend, or he’ll manage to make friends with the sheep up the field.

Birmingham

I still can’t abide it.  I do not get the place.  It is incoherent.  Every other city (let alone the second biggest IN THE COUNTRY) has at least made an effort to make the bit of it you see first when alighting from the train look nice.  Not so with Birmingham!  Add to that that it is completely lacking in scene, ambience or atmosphere, and what is the actual point?  Nevertheless, I am trying to engage and get a handle on it, and I’ve found a couple of nights/ promoters that I want to go to/ get involved in, mostly namely Colour, who put on left-field gigs and seem to vaguely be fanboys for Forest in Sound back in Leeds (no bad thing), and Atta Girl, who were – of course – inspired to start up by Suck My Left One.  So, there is certainly potential, once you get past all the drudgery and horror.  And I do like the tram system.

Life in the Shire

Far in a Western brookland
That bred me long ago
The poplars stand and tremble
By pools I used to know

-A.E. Housman

Rural life is isolating.  I have no idea what’s going on in the wider world, and I miss knowing, but it feels like it has little relevance here.  It’s calming though; everything’s much slower and I don’t have the same sense of pressure to always be doing something.  In the city, I feel guilty for sitting just watching telly or doing nothing when there’s a world of everything ever on my fingertips.  Here, there’s none of that guilt, because there isn’t much to do.  So far the most exciting thing that’s happened in terms of entertainment has been a sea-shanties night up at the King’s Arms that consisted of six drunk men dressed as pirates, one of whom was hitting a tambourine out of time.  Really.

The new job’s going quite well, I think; I had a bit of a blip on Tuesday when it took me two and a half hours to get home and I realised I’d have to go to bed in three hours’ time, proclaimed this unfair and inhumane, decided I just couldn’t possibly keep this up and sat at the kitchen table crying into my lamb mousaka.  Since then though, I’ve altered my travel plans so that I just drive all the way instead of fiddling about with car and multiple trains, and that’s improved things a lot.  I feel like I’m getting more of a handle on my job role, and it is quite pleasant to have people refer to me as a “writer” and say things like “Ask Natalie, she’s good with words”.  I’ve even been dressing semi-professionally, which is almost unheard of for me.  I MEAN.  I bought a new blouse?!

At home,  my sister’s just added to our menagerie with a couple of gorgeous goatkins.  I wanted to call them Tanngrisnir & Tanngnjóstr, after the goats that pulled Thor’s chariot, but she wasn’t having any of that and went for Twiglet & Minstrel instead.  They were both very skittish at first but they’re getting more tame now and will eat from your hand and let you give them a bit of a cuddle.  I’m doing the pub quiz at the Lion every Tuesday (it’s much too hard for me; I miss the Chemic!) and possibly rejoin my old brass band.  I’m also trying to keep my hand in after having finally learnt to cook this year, so I’m in charge of tea every Saturday, which I’m renaming NATURDAY (I know, actual genius).  I’ve successfully managed to get my siblings into Being Human, and Blackpool will probably be my next project.  Alex has also just decided that Explosions in the Sky are The Best Band Ever In The World Ever, and keeps running into my room announcing this.  And it seems like it could even almost be Spring; the sun’s finally beginning to show its face, the rooster is strutting about like a cock and the snowdrops are beginning to bloom.

I think that, for a while, this could be okay.